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NetSocket targets the branch router with network virtualization

NetSocket has pivoted its end-to-end network virtualization product toward replacing the branch router with software.

Network virtualization vendor NetSocket announced commercial availability of its orchestration and tunneling software, enabling enterprises and service providers to build mesh VPNs and centrally provision and administer branch office networks on standard servers.

When the company announced NetSocket Virtual Network last summer, it pitched the software as an end-to-end networking product for the data center, campus and branch. Now with this commercial release, NetSocket is emphasizing its ability to replace the branch router appliance.

"I had a feeling they would gravitate more aggressively to the branch," said Brad Casemore, research director with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "They had a really good understanding of the way applications are used in the branch and through the enterprise. Also, they have extensive routing capabilities bundled into the controller."

Casemore said NetSocket's branch router focus also makes sense because there isn't a lot of SDN competition in that corner of the market. Most SDN vendors are focusing on the data center. But that data center focus was prompted by the pain the IT organizations are experiencing with legacy data networks. Whether enterprises are feeling any pain in the branch is still an open question, he said.

With NetSocket's software, customers can replace the typical branch office stack -- router, server and switch -- with a commodity Layer 2 switch and a small x86 server running NetSocket's software.

NetSocket Virtual Network is an SDN overlay with a central controller -- vFlowController -- and a local data forwarding element -- vFlow Switch -- which resides on a hypervisor server. The initial release supports Microsoft Hyper-V environments.

The virtual switch and controller have been available since the summer as free trial software. Now NetSocket has released commercial software to enable wide area networking. The vNetCommander is NetSocket's network orchestration software and vTunnel is a VPN service that resides on the controller. The controller is also a fully functioning router that supports Open Shortest Patch First, Border Gateway Protocol and Intermediate System to Intermediate System. With the addition of these new software elements, NetSocket enables software-based WAN infrastructure that can be provisioned and administered centrally.

"Today when you want to turn up a remote office -- or if you're a service provider and you want support small- and medium-sized businesses from [a] centralized service -- you would ship out a remote office router that would get linked up with your server at your remote office, and you would manually configure that router," said Tricia Hosek, chief operating officer of Plano, Texas-based NetSocket. "Each office would be separately administered, and you would use CLI [command-line interface] scripts or commands to set up that network the way you want it -- usually done by someone who is [an] expert in routing language. Now, with vNetCommander, you no longer need any specialized equipment at the remote office. You can do all of your networking at every remote branch via commodity x86 servers."

With NetSocket's software, a service provider or enterprise can, in theory, ship to a branch or a small server -- like an Intel NUC -- with NetSocket's vFlowSwitch and a vNetCommander agent installed. Local non-engineers can plug it in and IT can remotely provision network services via the orchestration software. "The vNetCommander agent actually manages the hypervisor server as well as the vFlowswitch," Hosek said. "And it takes care of the interconnections on that vFlowSwitch."

With the software, an engineer can remotely add a branch to a VPN mesh with the option of bypassing Internet traffic to the public network, she said.

NetSocket is in trials with a service provider who is exploring the technology as a way to eliminate truck rolls to customer sites, Hosek said. "[Traditionally] they send a guy to each remote office with the router they use today to configure it and set it up manually and do all the interconnections."

Given that a branch should require only one virtual switch, customers can build a basic branch router software stack for less than $1000, which is the license fee that NetSocket charges per vFlowSwitch managed by vNetCommander, Hosek said.

Casemore said NetSocket's advertised savings -- 80% reduction in capital expenditures and two-thirds reduction in cost savings versus a Cisco alternative -- are compelling. The company simply needs to prove it can scale the technology in trials and also find people who want to tackle this approach to branch networking. "They've certainly made it easy for customers to start with it," he said.

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